- The Washington Times - Monday, February 28, 2011

With the trade deadline approaching at 3 p.m. EST, the Washington Capitals made a move Monday afternoon to bolster their playoff chances by picking up veteran defenseman Dennis Wideman from the Florida Panthers.

Wideman, who had 9 goals and 24 assists in 61 games with the Panthers this year, was dealt for Washington’s third-round pick in the 2011 draft and prospect Jake Hauswirth. He also has a connection with Dale Hunter, who has his number hanging in the Verizon Center rafters as one of four retired by the Capitals. Hunter was Wideman’s coach when he played for the London Knights.

“My first reaction was excitement,” Wideman told reporters via a conference call. “I’ve played a lot against Washington … I’ve heard so many great things about the organization from my junior coach, Dale Hunter.”

“Everybody knows what kind of player Dale was and what he meant to the franchise,” Wideman said when asked about what Hunter had told him about the Capitals. “[He had] just positive things to say about the franchise … I had the pleasure of playing for Dale for three years, and playing for him got me to where I am today.”

Wideman, who turns 28 in March, is a seven-year NHL veteran who also has spent time with the St. Louis Blues and Boston Bruins during his career, notching a career-best 50 points with Boston in 2008-09. The defenseman also has one more year left on a four-year, $15.75 million contract extension he signed with the Bruins in 2008.

“I don’t think we could’ve made a better defensive pickup than that,” Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau said. “He’s a really good defenseman; he plays lots of minutes.”

“Their team is a little bit different [from Florida], with the firepower they have,” Wideman said of his new team. “I’m going to help out wherever I can and pass the puck to [Nicklas] Backstrom and [Alex] Ovechkin.”

Wideman also added that despite hearing trade rumors involving his name, Washington wasn’t one of the destinations he thought he might be going, and that he was excited to be heading to the nation’s capital.

“I was obviously in a hockey city with Boston last year, and you come down to Florida, it’s quieter,” he said. “To jump into the spotlight in Washington … obviously, there’s going to be a lot more pressure.”

Hauswirth, who turned 23 this month, has 10 goals and 4 assists in 37 games as a forward with the ECHL’s South Carolina Stingrays this season. He joined the Capitals as an undrafted free agent in 2009 and spent parts of two seasons in Charleston.

Marco Sturm, whom Washington picked up from the Kings via the waiver wire on Saturday and Wideman’s former teammate in Boston, noted that he thought Wideman was the Bruins’ best defenseman last year during the playoffs — but also was unfairly a target of the Boston fans.

Sturm, who turns 33 in September and will become an unrestricted free agent on July 1, got his first workout with the Capitals on Monday as well. He joins Washington after an injury-filled season in Los Angeles, during which he was limited to 17 games and just 4 goals and 5 assists.

“I feel pretty close [to being healthy] and just got to get back to playing,” Sturm said.

Still, after the initial “shock” of being waived by the Kings, Sturm said, “I’m excited to be here, and it’s a great hockey team … I get back to playing my style of hockey, using my speed. There’s great talent here.”

D.J. King, whom the Capitals put on waivers Saturday, went unclaimed. The enforcer, who has dressed in just 14 games for Washington this year after being acquired from St. Louis over the summer, told reporters that being put on waivers was a new experience for him.

“It’s all out of my control,” he said. “Obviously, I want to play hockey.”

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